Chill seekers

Balaton festival a leap into wintry fun with polar plunge, ice golf

Photo by Deb Gau Balaton Fire Chief Kasey Holm cannonballed into icy Lake Yankton, as one of the people taking the “polar plunge” challenge on Saturday. Balaton Fire and Ambulance held a polar plunge and an ice golf tournament on the lake this weekend.

BALATON — The weather was milder than it had been for days — but that information wasn’t much comfort for the people taking the leap into chilly Lake Yankton on Saturday.

One after another, polar plunge participants hopped or cannonballed into a hole cut in the lake ice, and came up gasping in the cold.

“That was insane,” one participant said on his way to the warming tent after climbing out of the water.

“It’ll wake you up,” Cameron Lindquist said of his experience jumping into the lake.

The plunge was just part of the winter fun planned by the Balaton Fire Department and Ambulance over the weekend. Area residents came out for a soup lunch, ice golf tournament and polar plunge event Saturday afternoon. All the events took place at Lake Yankton in Balaton.

The ice golf tournament was something that Balaton Fire and Ambulance had talked about doing for a few years, members said.

“I had some friends who had done it in Clinton,” said Curt Paradis.

For Balaton’s ice golf event, organizers plowed out “fairways” and drilled pits in the ice to make a nine-hole golf course on the frozen lake. Players were issued tennis balls instead of golf balls, and they could use whatever “clubs” they wanted. While many teams were using golf clubs, a couple of players in the crowd brought hockey sticks or tennis rackets.

Tournament participant Gabe Traen said he had played snow golf before in the Twin Cities. Now, he and John Afdem said they were going to give ice golf a try.

“It’s got to be the Minnesota thing to do,” Afdem said.

Once players were out on the ice, controlling the ball seemed to be part of the challenge. If a tennis ball bounced out of the plowed fairway, it could roll a good distance across the packed snow on the lake’s surface. There was a lot more putting than driving going on.

“It’s like mini-golf,” said Samantha McClellan.

About 14 teams signed up for the ice golf tournament, and two sessions of polar plunging were held at different times in the afternoon. Having warmer temperatures on Saturday made it a lot more comfortable to be out on the lake, organizers said.

But things were always going to be pretty chilly for the polar plunge participants, however.

“It’s like pins and needles,” Jeremy Swenson said of hitting the water. “It kind of takes your breath away.”

Balaton Fire and Ambulance members said they hope to make the event an annual one on the first weekend in February.

“We’re hoping to add to it next year,” said Jared Hively. Hively and Swenson said some of the ideas being discussed for additional wintry activities included bowling, and mini-golf for kids.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.38/week.

Subscribe Today